As a society, there is an accepted agreement that a disability is not a barrier to education. What’s more, American colleges and universities have legal obligations to make reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities under the American Disability Act. However, the conversation thus far has largely focused on the physical requirements of accessibility. But as Jay Timothy Dolamge, disability studies academic and author notes, ramps and elevators are also metaphors for the broader need for inclusion.
Despite good intentions, many students and staff with disabilities report that they routinely find themselves excluded from campus life in one way or another. Sure, the school built wheelchair accessible ramps for buildings and classrooms, but that tends to be where schools begin and end their path to accessibility.
Hiring more college administrators who are differently-abled, however, can help take good intentions and morph them into actions that make colleges and universities into truly diverse and inclusive institutions for learning.
Schools Fall Short on Creating the Right Experience
The focus on academic and physical accessibility through infrastructure and technologies like e-learning that schools already have is undoubtedly important. At the same time, social inclusion is equally vital to a student’s success. While this inclusion comes naturally for many students, the same space isn’t made for students who are differently-abled or who have special needs. The student experience is where the metaphor of the ramp or elevator becomes most relevant.
Differently-abled students need to feel they are not just included, but that they’re a natural part of their school’s society in order to succeed in campus life and in the classroom. Studies show that students with disabilities of all types have a lower participation rate in extracurricular activities, and the cause of this is a lack of social inclusion in campus culture. Students in the study cited negative attitudes of faculty and admin staff as reasons that they couldn’t fully participate. Many also said that they felt they couldn’t even share their needs to get the accommodations they required.
What’s more, students with disabilities are far less likely to finish school: 34% complete a four-year program in four years compared to 51% of their peers. At the same time, students with needs have an overwhelming capability for completing the work required to graduate on time. Poor experiences at college not only “other” students unnecessarily, but they actively contribute to students being unable to fulfill their academic potential.
Why Having More College Administrators with Disabilities Can Help
The stigma of disability lingers even in the most physically accessible campuses, but in order to change it, schools need college administrators who not only understand it in terms of legal obligations. They also need to know it intimately and understand that disability isn’t a barrier in any respect.
More school administrators with disabilities will not only empower teams to even the playing field for students with disabilities, but they do so with authenticity and through a voice that is also self-empowered. It is a perfect example of the Social Model of Leadership (SML), which empowers people with disabilities and highlights the validity and uniqueness of their viewpoints.
It takes a lot to forge a career in academic administration; being a college dean requires intense education as well as many years of experience. When people with disabilities make the time and effort to work for these types of positions, they not only lead but they lead by example. By seeing other people with disabilities in a position to influence change, college students can see how important their unique voices are and understand that they have the power to shape their worlds. They will also likely be more comfortable sharing both their struggles and their requirements.
Why You Should Be a College Administrator
According to Maryville University, human services based careers are some of the top options for job seekers with disabilities. One such career is a college administrator, which is perfect for people with any disability, whether it’s physical and includes limited mobility or it’s an invisible disability.
As a college administrator, you do things like:
- Participate in the admissions process
- Oversee materials
- Track university records
- Plan curricula
- Oversee budgets
Through your work, you can play a role in developing the most important features of all student life and share your experiences to make improvements both for students with disabilities and for the campus culture as a whole. You can be the change that’s necessary to help other people with disabilities realize their full potential in the college setting.
Inclusion Is the Way Forward
Too often, the conversation around inclusivity in higher education focuses on distance learning and building accessibility. While these things are important, they focus too heavily on the disability and not enough on the student’s social needs. Students with special needs may enjoy the option to attend online classes or receive course materials in multiple formats. But if they’re still isolated from their peers, then they aren’t truly included in the college experience
By focusing on building college administration teams that represent the student experience and hiring administrators with disabilities, schools can make themselves into centers of learning that are not only physically accessible to all but places that also represent all different types of human experiences.
Image credit: https://unsplash.com/photos/YZsvNs2GCPU